By David Chriscole.
Fringe theatre here in the North West is huge, as it is elsewhere in the country. So big in fact, it should probably have its own post code. Yet prior to February 2015 I hadn't an inkling that this sub-culture even existed. Having been exposed to it by my nephew Sean, a UCLan trained actor, I was and am hooked.
In October 2015 Sean hails his next appearance on a stage being at a pub in Salford called The Kings Arms. The event, called "Marmite Night" was to be presented by Manchester ADP, part of their freshly baked "Scripts Aloud" programme. Having already seen a multi-play "Scripts Out Loud" event in Manchester during July, I more-or-less knew what to expect. However, Manchester ADP went a lot further than just presenting a series of scripts. Oh no, they wanted nay demanded your feedback after each presentation in a Q&A session. This was something quite different, and it was met with an eager audience keen to give their views.
Something quite extraordinary happened on this night though, something I had not seen coming. After the last script had been read, and the Q&A session had ended, our delightful MC Hannah Ellis talks briefly about Manchester ADP. The request for actors, directors and writers to get involved goes up.
"Anybody can submit a script for evaluation & possible performing in a script aloud event."
This statement, of which I'm paraphrasing from memory of course, is duly heard. After returning my Nephew to his home, and arriving back at my abode just about midnight, I sit and ponder the evening. Sipping a Gin & Tonic to help me unwind, I hear the echo of Hannah's delightful Australian twang, melting gorgeously in my ears. "Anyone can submit a script...". Funny how the simplest things can take you by surprise. I sat there for a moment wondering what to make of this fleeting memory of a few spoken words that evening. I nodded to myself in silent acknowledgement of this query, slipping it into my mind, with a post-it note "todo: think about this a little more".
The following evening I did do just that. I became aware during that day of a growing ache in my head. Not a real one mind you, more like a thought that wanted to get out but was blocked behind a door marked "gone to work". Opening that door in the evening proved quite eventful. I realised I had been mulling over part of my own existence during the previous year. This period was quite a hard, self-imposed self-loathing kind of affair. Yet, I seemed to join these events with Hannah's simple request for script submissions for Manchester ADP and... boom! (as you kids say)
Could I? Should I?
Part of the recovery from my "dark period" saw me promising myself that I would not shy away from doing something different. So I considered something astonishing; Could I write a short play about the struggle I had? Would it be interesting, engaging, thought provoking or just plain crap? A line from the Coldplay song "Fix You" rang in my ears, "If you never try, you'll never know.". Okay then, why not give it a go.
Once the decision was made, the words came fast. I poured out some of my deepest feelings in text, abstracting those feelings into characters I could relate to. By the end of 2 or 3 hours of writing, fiddling, reading and more fiddling, I launched the script into the ether and to my nephew Sean for some critique.
It did take a while to have the opportunity to sit and discuss what I had written, but the feedback I got from Sean gave me the positive vibe I'd been hoping for. There could be something here, it has legs. Can we maybe call it "a thing". Gosh! Another couple of iterations and the piece was ready. The script was submitted to Manchester ADP April 9th, and I await evaluation, words of wisdom, and I hope plenty of constructive critique. Exited, yes I am!
So to my point of this missive?
Well, I'd just like to say a massive thanks to Diana Atkins for having the foresight to found this amazing idea called Manchester ADP, which has turned into a thriving community. So too my adoration goes out to Hannah Ellis for the superlative interactions with us poor mortals every month. The combination of an exceptional bunch of people, packed theatre, vibrant and friendly conversation, has given fuel to creativity I had not known was within me.
To date there have been 11 Manchester ADP events since its inception in August 2015. Of the 4 events in 2015 I was only able to attend October, but the 7 thus far of 2016 have been fully attended. So impressed, delighted and enthralled by what I have seen, my calendar now boasts a repeating appointment for the last Monday of every month... to Salford we will go! So to with the additional full length rehearsed Script Aloud events, they are given the highest priority in my schedule.
Speaking to an actor recently, a polite conversation ensued in regards to what was being gained by professionals at these events. The actor said "I wasn't going to bother with them, but having bitten the bullet I'm so glad I did. I've worked with, networked and made friends with some incredible people.". Testament to the power that Manchester ADP wields.
Even if my short play never sees the light of day, the experience of writing and sharing is an invaluable one. It is my hope too, that others follow me as I follow those that have been before. Join in, have fun, come meet some totally awesome folk doing totally awesome things. Perhaps in doing so, you'll end up like me; Attacked by inspiration.
Manchester ADP, I salute you!
Post by: Diana Atkins
Well this is a first for me…I’ve never written a blog post. For someone who has reluctantly become a tweeter and Facebook-poster, it seems quite scary bearing your soul to the world in a permanent form but here we go…gulp!
For me, I’m not afraid to step onto stage as a character or to tweet from behind the anonymity of a theatre company, but doing anything publicly as ‘me’ produces paranoid procrastination. I think musicians are very brave for this reason.
It somehow helps that I am writing under my stage name, as though Diana Atkins herself is a sort of character – one that boldly goes where Diana may not dare tread!
I began my acting career when living in Australia (no Hannah and I never met there! I love Aussies – they have a ‘yes’ attitude to life and I knew for this and for many reasons, Hannah and I would get on like a house on fire). I then had a brief stint in Sheffield where I have lived previously before going to the Big Smoke. There I founded the Acting and Directing Partnership, which is where we get our name from. At that time it primarily organised workshops for actors and directors (hence the name), with Robert Marchand, who teaches Mike Leigh’s film-making methods. I did Robert’s workshop as an actor in Australia and loved it so I brought it to the UK for the first time. (He’ll be back again this year for his second European tour). In London, I was also part of a group called Actors and Writers London. This organized fortnightly play readings and I performed for them a few times. I was really touched by the warm welcome I received from Paddy Gormley as a newbie but also impressed that they had regulars who have been members since they began in1973! I loved being able to perform great roles with minimal commitment!
I moved to Manchester almost exactly one year ago. I looked around to see if there were any play reading groups. I went along to Conor’s Scriptworks, which was good but I couldn’t find anything regular. What I loved about the group in London was how regular it was, as it gave an opportunity to make genuine friendships. Also most play reading groups seem to sit around a table and read, rather than have performances and of course, I love to be on stage! I also think it helps writers to visualise their work and see what works and what doesn’t. So I tentatively posted on Manchester Independent Theatre Network to see if anyone would be interested in a regular rehearsed reading group. And I got inundated! Actors who wanted to perform, writers keen to see their work on stage and everything in between. I hadn’t really decided when I posted whether I would actually start something and then when I saw how much interest there was, I thought, ‘Well I better do this now!” And so Manchester ADP was born.
Lisa Connor from the Kings Arms got in touch and we have had a sort of residency there ever since. We love it there! And we’re so grateful for all their support.
The wonderful Hannah Ellis Ryan saw my post and got in touch – and now I cannot imagine ADP without her. I was so lucky to have someone so experienced in producing (and so lovely) get in touch. We have such a laugh. We make all our decisions jointly, right down to the wording of important emails so this is a first for me – going it alone to write this!
We had some awesome scripts and actors involved from the get-go. Our first night was on August 31st 2015. We’ve been on with short plays or monologues on the last Monday of the month ever since (apart from leap years causing puzzling scheduling clashes). In January we expanded to launch our full length readings which are great for really getting your teeth into and settling in for more in-depth audience discussions.
Although we do put an enormous amount of work in, we are very lucky that many of our developments and volunteers come about without us trying. We’ve had great venues get in touch interested in having work performed there if we ever tour. Casting directors from ITV, reviewers asking if they can come and review and so on. We are really fortunate to have our resident directors Craig Sanders and Dan Jarvis, who help us maintain the quality of performances. Craig Sanders is resident director at Buxton Theatre whilst Dan Jarvis is Manchester Musical Youth’s director. We now have an awesome team with Lisa Connor, Mark Russell, Andrew Ruddy, Andrew Glassford and most recently Sophie Coward. Sophie is our twitter guru. I can only watch in awe as she doubles our twitter following with every week she’s involved.
Every month I am blown away by ADP. I was really keen to build a genuine community, not a pretentious one, where people get to know and support each other but without becoming cliquey. I am so pleased to hear time and time again and to experience for myself how warm and welcoming ADP is. We’re always open to applications of new actors, writers and directors. Without compromising on quality. I’m amazed at what is produced in 3 hours rehearsal time and often I can hardly notice the script. It really feels like a safe environment to experiment, take risks on stage and give authentic constructive feedback.
I love the range of audience members. We have those that can ream off different theatre practitioners like they’re bessy mates and those who’ll watch something and simply say “I didn’t get it!” And both are so important. We’ve had heated debates on gender bias, sensitive discussions about mental health and last month we even had audience members bursting into tears as they shared with us how much a particular piece meant to them. We were so moved. The audience feedback is what makes the night so special. Every month I get anxious at 7.29 pm, as we are squeezing in extra stools and seats but somehow we’ve always managed to get everyone in.
It is such a buzz after every show that is carries me through all the hard work (I volunteer two days a week of my time to run ADP). The downside is I generally can’t sleep for hours on Monday nights after our shows!
For me, my main love is still acting, which is my primary motivation for self-producing through ADP. I am extremely fortunate to be able to play some awesome roles. I feel like I need to pinch myself every so often to make sure I’m not dreaming all of this. If you haven’t yet been involved and think we’re exaggerating, we hope you’ll come and join us and experience ADP for yourself. Then you’ll get quite why we all love it so much.
I am so grateful for the generosity of everyone involved. I do hope that as we expand, we will secure sponsorship and funding to be able to give back to you all. Thank you also to all those who have supported me in setting this up: Angela Peters of the UK Actors Tweet Up for your unshakeable faith and optimism and The Actors and Writers London for your words of wisdom.
I hope we’ll be around for many years. We have really exciting plans for expanding Manchester ADP this year so watch this space!
To our wonderful ADP community. It has been nearly one year since the very first Scripts Aloud where we brought to life five short scripts: ‘Single Yellows’ by Ian Winterton, ‘Caminada’ by Robert Pegg, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Dave Jones, ‘Songs He Left Unsung’ by Kevin McMahon and ‘Killing Yoko’ by Luke Richards.
We were delighted that it was a triumph in every sense. All our hard work paid off. It really came together and attracted a full house for our first show.
Since August, 2015, our community of writers, directors and actors has grown to a collective of 600 (that we can count!) Our core team of Diana Atkins, Hannah Ellis Ryan and Lisa Connor, now includes: Mark Russell, taking phenomenal photos to help document every step of the ADP journey; Andrew Glassford, our fantastic, helpful and top-notch techie; our dedicated and ever-reliable Door Manager, Andrew Ruddy and, finally our social media wizard, Sophie Coward.
From incredibly humble beginnings, it seems ADP is going from strength to strength. The word is spreading, with almost every day an exciting email in the inbox from a writer, director or actor, having heard about the work we do. Always, a wealth of new and brilliant scripts, fresh faces to add to our database and new, exciting possibilities for the future. It is, truly, the highest high and we cannot thank you, our ADP community, enough for making it possible.
Because we are just too excited by the brilliant work that is going on, but, also, by the stories we receive every day, both by email and in person, we have decided to launch an ADP Blogosphere, right here on our website.
Nearly every day someone writes us a beautiful ‘thank you’ about their ADP experience and we want to share those stories. They are too beautiful and too important to just stay in our inbox, or our minds. These are the very stories that show why ADP has become the success it has – the sense of community, safety and nurturing that Manchester ADP is all about.
So, this is our CALL TO ACTION.
Please, send us your stories! Send us a blog about:
We can’t wait to hear from you. Hopefully, over time, this will build into a wonderful archive of stories – one that can show those not yet involved, what a beautiful community this truly is.